By Johan Badenhorst, Voetspore
Over the past 16 years we have fitted many aftermarket items to our 4×4’s. After ten journeys and as we are about to leave on Voetspore Expedition No 11, we believe we have a very good idea of what is essential and what not. One very important aspect of 4×4 travel that we learnt is what not to take, and that those items we do fit to our vehicles must be tried and tested.
When we started it was fairly simple. We had 3 standard Land Rover Defenders Td5’s. All three were fitted with winches and a rear diff lock. The diff lock consisted of a device fitted in the rear differential of the Defender. It acted in a certain way like a limited slip diff. Once a wheel started spinning, the device got wound up inside the diff, causing the wheel to stop and to allow the other wheel to do its work. The effect of these devices was good, apart from the fact that during normal driving the locker was released with a serious bang, causing some anxiety in the cab. When we phoned Gene Cussons, the man who insisted we take these devices, he explained that this was what is was supposed to be like.
Everything but the Kitchen Sink
Most important is that we took a trailer with us. We packed everything including the kitchen sink.
The first five days were done with a trailer. At the “Doodsakker” in Angola we finally realized the burden of the fourth “vehicle”. That expedition, Gansbaai to Gabon, was the last one where we towed a trailer. Towing a trailer allows you to take a lot of unnecessary items.
The value of a Proper Suspension Kit
We did however, add other accessories. Slowly but surely we came to realize the value of a proper suspension kit. Also on the Gansbaai to Gabon journey we ran into trouble with another “Australian” offroad suspension kit. Arriving in Dolisie in Congo Brazzaville we lost the entire pack of blade springs on one of our vehicles.
In this dusty little town we had to build a new pack for the Nissan Patrol. This was the assembly of all we could find on the scrap yard.
Yet it worked. (I believe the vehicle was sold with “Dolisie pack”, the new owner was not aware of the unique set of blade springs he has on his Nissan!). The following year we were happy to travel with Toyota Land Cruisers from Casablanca to the Cape. Once more we fitted another “Australian” offroad suspension kit. This time our problems proved to be much bigger than the breakdown of one set. This time we lost six sets in total.
First problems started in Dakar. The representative who fitted the suspension was with us. He blamed Francois for driving too fast over a speed hump in the Senegalese capital, causing the springs to break. Fortunately the main blade was still intact, so we continued after assembling a set with what we could find in Dakar.
But our representative from the another “Australian” offroad suspension kit was wrong. The springs kept on breaking. By the time we reached Matadi in the DRC we had to build two more sets. On our way to Luanda another one gave way. I had to buy a new pack in the Angolan capital for $400. We had to work through the night to have them fitted so that we could make to the border within the limited time allowed with a transit visa.
Just before the Namibian border disaster struck. Not only did my set of leaf springs snap, the main blade was gone as well. We had to make a plan.
It was late afternoon when we struggled into Ruacana, the Cruiser seriously limping with the right rear held in place with a splint manufactured with the long arm of the high lift jack.
This too, was not the end of it. We had to replace two more sets whilst driving mostly on tar in Pretoria.
On making enquiries about the reason for these break downs we came to realize that these blade springs were never properly tested. The apparent reason was not that there was something wrong with the quality of steel, but that the bottom blade was too long, preventing the springs from doing what they were designed to do. Blade springs are designed to bend. If you prevent or limit them from bending they will break, and so they did.
Old Man Emu – the End of Our Suspension Problems
When we planned our next trip, from Agulhas to Alexandria, we changed suppliers. We went to the tried and tested. Ever since then we have fitted Old Man Emu. This was the end of our suspension problems.
Old Man Emu (“OME”) and ARB are tried and tested products. The ARB bull bar is the only bull bar on the market that is genuinely air bag tested. This does not mean that having fitted a different bull bar to your vehicle that the air bags will not deploy during an accident. It will deploy, but this may be a fraction too soon or too late. If a bull bar is air bag compatible, it needs to have been tested. The OME leaf springs are engineered to provide optimum ride performance irrespective of the operating conditions in which they operate. They are also draw tapered and diamond cut leaves to ensure that the load is progressively distributed over a larger surface area, reducing the high stresses that develop at leaf ends, thereby increasing ride comfort and longevity.
Next time you have after-market accessories fitted to your 4×4, make sure where it is genuinely manufactured and how it is tested. Just because it says Australia doesn’t actually mean it is manufactured there and it is to the standard set by the Australian Driving Authority.